The ‘Trojan Horse’ scandal in Birmingham is, inevitably, being used to prove the pet arguments nurtured by a number of people, even though the reality is more complicated.
Some argue that this shows the dangers of faith schools, even though these were not faith schools. Others, including Nick Clegg and Tristram Hunt, are arguing that the ‘balance’ of oversight of free schools and academies needs to be corrected, even though not all of the 21 schools investigated by Ofsted were outside local authority control. The Deputy Prime Minister was on the Today programme this morning, and he dropped a number of comments that suggest he’s keen to make changes, and changes that will cause a row with the Tories.
First, he suggested he wanted more central control over the curriculum:
‘So I think maybe one of the things we need to think about is how do we make sure that a core body of knowledge, which of course that body of knowledge has within it a lot of the values that we all believe in, how do we make sure that a core curriculum, not a great sprawling one, is taught in all schools in our country regardless of the nameplate at the school gates?’
Then he hinted that he wanted less autonomy:
‘Look, I’m a fan of giving headteachers greater autonomy, which is the simple idea behind academies, in the way in which they run their school… I don’t see why other headteachers don’t enjoy the same prerogatives and autonomy as headteachers do in academies.
‘But school autonomy is all very well until it is abused and that has clearly been the case here. And that is why you need to get the balance right and that’s what I think a lot of parents, as they look at all of this this morning, would be quite surprised to learn.’
The coverage of yesterday’s patching up mission in the Commons is probably what Downing Street was aiming for in that it rightly focuses on the Ofsted reports on the schools concerned, rather than the politics between Theresa May and Michael Gove. But while those two ministers have closed down hostilities for now at least, it looks as though another fight will open up on another front: Nick Clegg’s comments advocating greater centralisation at least return the coalition to more comfortable cross-party fighting rather than blue-on-blue.